The Woman in the Refrigerator Trope
Superheroes are one of the biggest things in pop culture. The fact that we get around 3 to 4 new superhero movies a year is enough to prove that. But taking into account all the comics, tv shows, and video games, we can clearly see that superheroes aren't going anywhere for a long time. Which is great, because who doesn't love a good superhero story!? But, that also means the messaging of the superhero genre is here to stay, which means we need to learn what messages are often given to an audience of superhero media. One of the biggest tropes is the Woman in the Refrigerator. The women in the refrigerator trope or ‘fridging’ refers to using a woman by either killing, maiming, raping, harming, or depowering her for the purposes of developing a male character or pushing forward his story.
This trope gets its name from Gail Simone, who created a website in response to a scene from the comic Green Lantern #54 where Green Lantern’s girlfriend Alexandra DeWitt is killed and her corpse its placed in a refrigerator for him to find. The purpose of this site is call attention to the amount of times female characters are ‘fridged’ in superhero media. And let me tell you, there are A LOT of examples of this. The websites list 111 female characters that have been fridged and mind you, this is an ongoing list so as new examples pop up or they are sent an email about it happening, the list keeps growing.
Take Nora Allen, Barry Allen’s mother, for example. In the 3 iterations we have of Flashpoint, one common element remains; Nora Allen must die. When the flash travels back in time to save his mother’s life, he creates a new timeline that is very different from the one he remembers. In doing so, he creates a timeline that is much worse off that the timeline he came from. This means that Barry himself, or with the aid of his arch-enemy the Reverse Flash, must again go back in time again and allow his mother to die. In this case, his mothers death is a requirement for Barry to get his powers and for his world to be better off.
Another more obvious example is from Deadpool 2. If Vanessa doesn’t meet her untimely demise in the first 10 minutes of the film, there is no plot for the movie.
Deadpool's sole driving factor the entire film is avenge the death of Vanessa. Nothing more. Same goes for Hughie in The Boys. If A-Train doesn’t run through and kill Hughie’s girlfriend Robin in the first few minutes of the series, Hughie has no reason to join Butcher and there is no main character to the series.
Each of these instances means that these women are not their own characters. They are simply a device for the story tellers to move the plot, just as in the damsel in distress trope.
There can also be some overlap between the two tropes, as with the case of Gwen Stacy. She goes from damsel to fridged with the whole point of making Spiderman suffer and develop HIS character. When women are simply used a plot devices in a story, it sends the message that they expendable, disposable, or they only exist to further or give men a reason to do something. This trope reinforces or creates a belief system in viewers that women are simply background characters or expendable and in women identified individuals, they are taught that their social role is that of the disposable lover with no agency over her own story. By encountering this kind of deeply misogynistic violence over and over again women are frequently silenced and worn-down.
As for men, this trope reinforces the belief of women being below them or that women are just there to aid in our story. Now, this is not to say that death can’t be a part of a story, it very much should be because death is a very real thing that happens, but death should be met with some nuance and characters shouldn’t exist just to be killed to push a plot. That’s just lazy storytelling.